What Everyone should know about Gray

Since gray is the new brown, I have been hearing all kinds of reactions about how cold it is, with people (including designers) declaring: ‘I would NEVER decorate with gray’.

I even had a reader who sent me an email asking about a statement a designer had made, ‘You can’t mix two neutrals together; therefore, brown and gray can’t go together’ and I’m here to tell you, yes they can.

The problem with the ‘trendy neutral of the moment’ whether that’s brown or grey in your area, is that so many people choose it as their DEFAULT NEUTRAL.

If they have a colour choice to make, whether it’s a new sofa, new hardwood or outdoor furniture, everything ends up BROWN or GREY or BLACK, for example.

Grey is the current trendy neutral because earth tones feel dated and overused. Bright and clean colours are trending, and beige dies as a backdrop to clean colours. Nothing bring grey to life faster than yellows (above), fresh greens, orange/peach, reds and pinks (below).

The other day I picked up an old House & Garden Magazine and flipped it open to this interior by Steven Gambrel his interiors will explain what I’m saying the best (all images in this post from his website):

Gray has three undertones. It’s either blue, green or violet.  And this is why your gray wall might look blue, green or purple, because you missed the undertone before you painted the walls.

Understanding Undertones Color Wheel - Maria Killam

Here is an interior painted in a pale blue gray:

Muted blues are tricky to specify for the walls because people often get them confused between green grays and blue grays. A gray that technically ‘reads’ like a neutral gray on the walls is usually a green gray, like HC-173 Edgecomb Gray (below) here the ceilings are the same colour:

Basically if you want blue walls, you need to actually select a blue gray so that you don’t end up with baby blue.

If you look closely at this kitchen (above) the stone countertop and flooring and subway tile have a green undertone while the interior panels of the doors have been painted a blue-gray. It’s subtle and doesn’t look necessarily wrong (to the untrained eye) but can you see it now that I’m describing the difference? Most people can.

I prefer this combination of grays (above), because it looks more intentional.

A more sophisticated analogous colour scheme with the blue gray walls and toss cushion paired with the green gray drapery, upholstery and carpeting.

A small sidenote–this is not a colour combination I would use when decorating (too cold for me in general), I am simply showing it to demonstrate the two grays and because I think it has been tastefully done.

In this image (above) the doors are actually a violet gray, and the beams on the ceiling look slightly lighter.

I recently received this comment on one of my posts:

“Just from reading your blog I see colour differently. I was buying paint the other day and a chap came in with three gallons of Abalone Benjamin Moore, he showed the clerk a photo of his purple wall and both he and the clerk scratched their heads and said it was the weirdest thing that the light made the paint purple. Boy, did the clerk give me daggers when I chimed in that Abalone is purple based.”

And this is exactly what has so many people think that the light changed the colour when really, you just choose the wrong grey.

See how this room really looks like a cold blue gray? Well there it is; technically the extreme of gray. But as you can see by all the images prior to this one, there is a huge variation of grays that simply provide a calm, neutral backdrop when mixed with warm colours.

There’s nothing wrong with a blue grey if you love blue!

Rooms that are the most interesting and sophisticated, usually have a well balanced combination of warm and cool colours which have been introduced by the flooring (shown above) or the warmer tones in the furniture itself.

All images from S.R. Gambrel

Here Steven has taken blue and green and warmed them up and away from gray undertones for the decor of this room!

Obviously most of these images are very tone on tone and neutral so for many of you, it’s too much gray, but I hope I’ve shown that when someone says ‘gray’, they are probably not thinking about the coldest blue gray in the paint deck!

It’s all in the Undertones, download my ebook here if you really want to get the undertone of your greys right. (if you have a computer you can download my book)

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

True Colour Expert Training is Here!

What Everyone should know about Beige

How to choose the right Beige

New to this Blog? Click here ; Subscribe to my Monthly Newsletter.

While you’re here, subscribe to this feed so you don’t miss out!





leave aREPLY

  1. Maria, I am trying to decide on color of new flooring. We are going with the luxury vinyl planks. My walls are painted Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter. I really love grey flooring but I’m worried that it might be too much grey and too cold. The floor I have picked out is Adura Max Sausalito Waterfront. I keep second guessing it. I’m wondering if I should warm up the room with brown colored flooring? Any thoughts or ideas?

  2. Sooo, I just had new grey wood look tile put in… and it looked grey before installed but it has now taken on a blue tint! How do I counteract this? My walls were done with a warm grey prior to install..

  3. My house is a combination of Benjamin Moore’s Grey Tint and a warm beige from another line called “Crepes”. They are lovely together, and go well with a pale white/beige rug (no pink tones) and black and leopard print furniture.I love the way the grey lights up in the winter, my house is on a North slope and the back wall is completely glassed with 8′ by 9′ windows. I’m selling this house though, because that’s what I do every 4 years. I get bored. I’m moving on to blue/sand/white/coastal, and I don’t care if the blue and white china trend is old. I think it’s a classic. But I am SO over grey, unless I find a house that cries out for Swedish style. I let the house tell me what it wants.

  4. Hi Maria,
    What is the undertone of Benjamin Moore’s 2019 Color of the Year – AF-690 Metropolitan? In photos on-line, sometimes I see green and other times, violet. What do you as the Undertone Expert, see?

      • If grey is on its way out, and I want to paint my house to sell in the next couple of years, what neutral should I lean towards for the wall, cabinet, and countertop colors?

        • Greige or whatever goes with your fixed finishes. A mid-tone grey or darker is definitley considered out but by those in the know. And it depends on where you live. Grey is just hitting some areas of the country now. Hope that helps! Maria

  5. Happy belated birthday, Maria!
    I want to know which is the undertone color on the Repose Grey paint from Sherwin Williams.

  6. Maria, now that we are at the end of the “grey” era, what is the new color trend going to be? I’d like to be ahead of the trends for once instead of updating about the time something is going out lol. Love your blog!

  7. Hello , my garden is painted in cool Gray. The fence in a dark almost black gray and the shed in a light cool gray. Inside my living room we just painted a dark warm gray . But we have view to the garden from my living room . Will it be to much gray???. Also the fact that outside is cool gray and inside is warm gray?. What do you think?

    Thank you


    • Yes if you think it’s too much then it definitely is. Gray came along to be the crisp backdrop to COLOUR. Not to be chosen every time a colour decision needed to be made. Maria

  8. Hi Maria,

    Do you work with Dulux paints as well. I am a South African and struggling to work out the undertones for that particular brand. Would you be able to help.

    Kindest regards,

    • Yes we use Dulux paints however, they seem to differ depending on the country. They will not respond to calls or emails from my office in Australia so I don’t have their fan deck. Send us a few colours if you want to buy an edesign package and we can check that they are the same here.

  9. Maria, I love all your tips and ideas when decorating. I do have a question however. I live in a small mother-in-law apartment of about 600 sq ft. Should I paint all the walls the same color throughout? The small living room/kitchen gets some natural light but the bedroom does not and therefore is quite dark. I am thinking of shades of lavender and like BM 1248 Organdy and/or SW 7079 Ponder. What undertones should I look for? Thank you so much for your advice.

    • Hi Mary,
      There really isn’t any rules about having it all be the same colour, that might be the right solution but it’s better if your colours all coordinate and I can’t tell you if shades of lavender would be best but if there’s lavender in your decorating then that could be right! If you need help, I can help you choose a wall colour through eDesign! Thanks for your comment, Maria